What did Jesus teach about entering heaven?

Did Jesus preach the gospel?

Is there a difference between the way you invite people to receive salvation from God and the way Jesus did?

Is there consistency from the gospels through the epistles regarding how one is to be reconciled to God and assured of heaven?

Audio Resource: Listen to part 7 of In Step with the Master Teacher here.

Entrance requirements of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew

  • 5:20 – surpassing righteousness
  • 7:21 – doing the will of the father
  • 18:3-4 – childlike humility
  • 18:8-9 – amputation of sinful offenses
  • 19:16-24 – love of riches as an obstacle
  • 25:21, 23 – the faithful servant entering the joy of the Master

Five verdicts of the gospel

  1. I stand condemned before God – guilty of sin and deserving of God’s judgment         (Romans 3:10,23:6:23a; James 2:10)
  2. I cannot improve my standing before God (Romans 4:5; 5:6;Galatians 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).                                                               
  3. Apart from the mercy and grace of God, I remain forever under God’s just condemnation (Romans 3;Titus 3:5-7).
  4. What I cannot do, God did for me when Jesus Christ took the judgment my sin deserved (Galatians 3:13;Romans 5:8; 8:3-4;II Cor. 5:17,18,21).
  5. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1, 32-39;John 1:12;3:16-18,36; 10:27-28).

Romans 5:6, 8-11 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Steve Cornell

 

A Sure and Contagious Hope

This world has a way of turning on us when we try to make it our home. It disappoints and frustrates us. It cannot offer what is necessary to quench the deepest longings of our hearts. It leaves us with a sense that we were made for something better, something more. We cannot escape a nagging feeling that things are not the way they were meant to be or ought to be. 

Not everyone experiences this dissatisfaction with the same intensity. Endless distractions and unfinished bucket lists easily suppress the feeling that everything might be “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). But as we fight against the feeling that dust we are and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19), we soon realize that all our pursuits and projects in this life must come to an end.

Something almost always comes along to shatter our dreams and raise the age old question of meaning. Even the person with shallow assumptions will feel the uncertainty and insecurity of life in a finite world.

“Happiness based on worldly security alone is endlessly vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which may come in the form of illness or inflation or the loss of a loved one. There are all manner of threats to the meaning of our lives both internal and external which can conspire to destroy it if it is inadequately grounded” (Clark Pinnock).

Even our hope in Christ is not adequate if it is “only for this life we have hope in Christ.” Such a narrow and limited hope would mark us as “people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:19).

Christian faith offers a structure of deeper meaning based upon the unalterable love of God the Father. With the apostle Paul, we say, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Faith in Christ secures for us a “citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:19-21).

Christians locate their hope not in a religion but in a personal Savior, in Jesus Christ (I Timothy 1:1). This hope inspires us to press on in the face of distressing and discouraging circumstances. The wonderfully deep mystery we experience now is Christ in us, “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

We share in the “hope of eternal life” and are designated by God, “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2;3:7); those who have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

But this great hope requires patience. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).

What a treasure it is that, “….through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Finally, our hope is meant to be contagious — especially when it appears to lack circumstantial reason. This was the case for the persecuted Christians who were encouraged to “set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts” and to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). Are people attracted to your hope? 

Reaching for hope that is larger than this world is intuitive to humans and reminds us that we were made for more than this life? “Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story” (Robert Roberts).

Steve Cornell

In Step with the Master Teacher

Play Audio!

As I was studying the methods and content of the teaching of Jesus, the word reality kept coming back to me. Jesus kept things real in exposing religious hypocrisy. But reality for Jesus was far more than life in this world.

I also thought about a quote from a book we’re using in our parents of teens group:

“The more accurately you think about something, the healthier your life will be. The converse is also true. The more inaccurate your thinking the more dysfunctional your relationship with your teen will be — even if you assume your thinking is fine, which most of usually do.” 

“Reality can be a hard pill to swallow. But last time I checked, when you fight reality, you lose. Reality wins.” (Tim Sanford, Losing control and liking it, p. 10,14).

But what is reality? It depends on who you ask. If you look closely at the teaching of Jesus, any version of reality that disconnects earth from heaven is a dangerous kind of unreality. Jesus relentlessly insisted on this connection.

Earth and Heaven

As the Master Teacher, Jesus moved from what is seen and known to what is unseen and eternal. He transformed everyday earthly objects into lessons about God, heaven and eternity.

The people of his time had grown blind to the connections between earth and heaven. So Jesus connected the truth around them in the visible world with the truth before them in the Scripture — truth about eternity.

“They didn’t think of God’s word when they sowed seed, or the new birth when they felt the wind, or faith when they gathered the tiny mustard seed; but Jesus did.” (Warren Wiersbe, Teaching and Preaching with imagination, p. 161)

He connected what they could see in creation and life with truths about eternal life to come. Through many object lessons, he turned his listeners ears into eyes to help them see the truths he taught.

  • Jesus spoke of salt, light, wind, bread, vine and branches, flowers, trees, seed, fields white for harvest, birth, gates, coins, treasure, pearls, nets, cups, dishes, tombs…
  • Jesus used, fox, birds, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, serpents, fish, gnats and camels, a hen and her chicks, ….
  • He referred to physicians, shepherds, land owners, builders, friends, bridegrooms, virgins, farmers, tenants, sons, teachers, wine merchants, the rich and the poor, an unjust judge and a widow, blind guides,…
  • He spoke of banquets, weddings, feasts, temples, his father’s house with many rooms…

The teaching of Jesus is characterized by “an evident absence of artificial oratory” (C.H. Spurgeon). Yet what Jesus taught is consistently a combination of simplicity, and complexity that was often provocative and challenging.

Jesus told stories that often exposed the religious and social prejudices of the establishment. Yet there don’t appear to be any great shifts in tone and inflection; no special vocabulary or arresting theatrics, — just stories. The problem, however, is that in Jesus’ stories the wrong people win. The Samaritan shines as a keeper of God’s commands; the gentile demonstrates faith, the tax-gather goes home justified before God and the sinful women with a past is welcomed and forgiven. 

It was hard to miss his point — and they didn’t! 

Many times the simplicity of application cannot be missed. But this didn’t reduce the complexity and challenge. After hearing Jesus, one might respond with, “I get it … I think…” But wait,… does he mean…? Or, should I take it as …” His words invited deep contemplation and reflection. 

The elements of simplicity are unmistakably clear — on one level. When Jesus exposed hypocritical approaches to praying, giving, fasting; we get the point each time. But we also feel the challenge to consider subtle ways that we seek attention and praise for our acts of service.

When Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” – we get it (Matthew 7:24). But it troubles us that so “many” people could call Christ “Lord” and engage in works of the kingdom (“did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”) only to hear the Lord say to them,  “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Where are we hearing but not doing?

Back to reality

All of this takes us back to that word “reality.” According to the Master Teacher, the person who lives without making deep connections between earth and heaven lives in unreality. He might be a “man of the world” but if he thinks this is his only world, he is profoundly misguided. In 70-80 years, the connections will become clear.

To build your house on the rock, as a wise builder, you must follow the teachings of the one who continuously connected this life with eternity. He taught his followers to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He taught us to think of reward with our father in heaven and to store treasure in heaven — that place where corruption cannot damage treasure. 

A matter of perspective

How will you see things? How will you respond to the successes and trials of this life? If you live only on the horizontal level, only looking at things that are temporal, you’ll build your life fantasy not reality. Instead, join with Jesus Christ and make connections between what is known and visible to what is unseen and eternal.

Then when the torrential rain comes and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against your life, the rock-solid foundation of Christ’s words will withstand all the way into eternity.  

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Steve Cornell 

 

Will Heaven solve our problems?

“Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem” (C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed,” p. 55).

 The “problem” of evil

“Whenever we are confronted with something utterly and dreadfully evil, appallingly wicked, or just plain tragic, we should resist the temptation that is wrapped up in the cry, ‘Where’s the sense in that?’

It’s not that we get no answer. We get silence. And that silence is the answer to our question. There is no sense. And that is a good thing too.”

“This may seem a lame response to evil. Are we merely to gag our questions, accept that it’s a mystery, and shut up? Surely we do far more from that? Yes, indeed. We grieve. We weep. We lament. We protest. We scream in pain and anger. We cry out, ‘How long must this kind of thing go on?’”

“As both rational and moral beings, made in the image of God, we want things to make sense. We have an innate drive, an insatiable desire, and almost infinite ability to organize and order the world in the process of understanding it. To understand things means to integrate them into their proper place in the universe, to provide a justified, legitimate and truthful place within creation for everything we encounter. We instinctively seek to establish order, to make sense, to find reasons and purposes, to validate things and thus explain them”

“All of us struggle to make sense of the presence of evil in the midst of God’s good creation (though perhaps we are not meant to, and never can, ‘make sense’ of evil; the very essence of evil is the negation of all goodness—and ‘sense’ is a good thing. In the end, evil does not and cannot make sense.”

“But evil, at least of the kind that seems to serve no higher purpose or is not necessary to accomplish some equal or greater good, makes no sense. It did not belong to God’s original good creation and will not belong to God’s new creation.”

  • “The Bible compels us to accept that there is a mysteriousness about evil that we simply cannot understand (and it is good we cannot).”
  • “The Bible allows us to lament, protest, and be angry at the offensiveness of evil (and it is right that we should).”

(from: Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith).

Christ appears in Heaven for us!

When the apostle encouraged us to “set our affections on the realities of heaven,” he specifically identified it as the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.” 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands… he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).

 What makes heaven so desirable is not the absence of anguish and suffering (as great as this will be), nor the presence of angels and fellow believers. Heaven is so desirable because it is the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.”

The apostle Paul spoke about his death with this perspective. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

After Jesus finished His mission of bearing our sins and being raised from the dead, He returned to heaven and took the seat of highest honor to appear before God “for us.” These two words “for us” are amazing!

In the highest court, those who know Christ as their Savior are represented. Let these words settle deeply into your heart: “Christ went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.”

In Colossians 3:3-4, the apostle reinforced his call to focus on heaven by writing: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

Reflection

“The Christian’s whole and only status before God is in Christ. True and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian’s existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations; he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls short of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes himself as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is the representation which Christ fulfills as he appears in the presence of God for us” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 349).

For deeper meditation on Christ’s representation, see: Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-27; John 2:1-2. The apostle John said those who confess their sin (I John 1:9), have an “advocate” with the heavenly father (I John 2:2). The N.I.V. translates advocate as, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” It pictures a legal setting with Christ as counsel for the defense. And His position as advocate is based on His redeeming work (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

“Our advocate doesn’t plead that we are innocent…He acknowledges our guilt and presents His vicarious work as the ground for our acquittal” (John R. W. Stott, I John, TNTC, pp. 81-82).

We must guard against misguided understandings of representation. We should not picture a dualistic situation where a well-pleasing son is trying to persuade a hostile father to look on us with favor. God was the one who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32; cf. 1 John 4:9-10).

Reflection

“The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading with the Father to change his attitude toward us. Nor does the Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that he himself has provided for us in his Son—the very thought is preposterous! The presence in heaven of the Lamb bearing the marks of his passion is itself the perpetual guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and though we are united to him in love and trust, we are unworthy because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us (cf. Gal. 4:19) and we still sinfully fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). This consideration explains our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of him who alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in his worthiness that even now we rejoice in the blessings of the divine favor, for by the grace of God his merit has been reckoned to us as our merit, his heaven has become our heaven, and his eternal glory our eternal glory” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews).

 Do we need the assistance of saints or angels to bring us to God?

“To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).

Christ alone is our mediator, advocate, intercessor, high priest, and way of access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He (Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2; cf. Hebrews 7:26-27). “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:18). 

Let your heart dwell on these great words: “Christ went into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

Steve Cornell 

 

Are you poor in Spirit?

What did Jesus mean when he declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”? Does this refer to actual poverty or spiritual humility? Does “blessed” mean “happy”? How could the poor be blessed?

Blessed or happy?

We should not equate being “blessed” with being “happy.” Jesus was not making statements about the emotional well-being of people. Western culture is preoccupied with analyzing moods and feelings, whereas being “blessed” is much deeper than an assessment of emotion.

 Jesus’ use of “blessed” is better understood as a declaration of divine approval. “Blessed (of God)” are the poor in spirit. After all, Jesus is the one making the declarations.

The eight beatitudes are the qualities of the true disciples of Jesus. What does a true believer look like? — He is poor in spirit; he mourns; he is meek… I agree with the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones in seeing these as progressive spiritual experiences with lasting transformations of character.

Jesus described those who will inhabit heaven 

The eight beatitudes are sandwiched in a literary envelop between the repeated phrase “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This offers insight into the kind of people who make up the citizens of heaven. Who will inhabit heaven? Look at the beatitudes. This is true Christianity. Whatever superficial substitute you’ve seen, it must be measured by these qualities.

The meaning of poor in spirit

Blessed — approved of God — are the poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is to stand before God, broken and empty without anything to commend ourselves to His approval.

The poor in spirit are like the man described by Jesus who beat himself on the chest and plead for God’s mercy. “I tell you,” Jesus said elsewhere, “that the this man who identified himself as a sinner in need of God’s mercy “went home justified before God.” Then our Lord said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14).

The opposite of the poor in spirit is the proud in spirit. And since we know that God resists the proud (I Peter 5:5-6), we may be confident that nothing of spiritual consequence happens apart from poverty of spirit. God is near to those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18) and he “guides the humble in  what is right and teaches them His way” (Psalm 25:9). This is why the poor in spirit are blessed! 

Character precedes influence

It is important to notice how Jesus shifted from third person address (”theirs” is…”they” shall….) in Matthew 5:3-12 – to second person address in Matthew 5:13-16 - “You” are the salt of the earth; “You” are the light of the world. Who is Jesus talking about here? Who is salt and light? The ones he described in the beatitudes. They fulfill the role of salt and light? 

“Poor” vs. “Poor in spirit”

Luke’s gospel uses a socio-economic designation without the spiritual addition – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). This fits with an overall emphasis in the gospel of Luke on God’s concern for the lowly and it’s taught in other places as well.

  • “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).
  • “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. ( I Corinthians 1:26-29).

Why is it that material need often helps us to see deeper needs? Blessed are the poor/poor in spirit!

Steve Cornell

Longing for a better world

As we honor those who served and currently serve the armed forces of our nation, I find myself longing for a world without the need for military.

Obviously this world will never be without such a need. But have you ever given serious thought to why our world is so filled with evil and violence? Why can’t people get along and relate peacefully with one another?

No, I am not getting ready to sing what the world needs now is love, sweet love. But the endless wars that make up so much of world history are a sad reminder of our fallen condition. And most people intuitively feel that things are not the way they were meant to be.

The human story is certainly more one of war than peace. Someone cynically suggested, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”

Telling our story requires contrasting terms between goodness and evil; love and hate; beauty and cruelty; life and death; even war and peace. Themes of dignity and depravity are relentlessly recurrent in all cultures – at all times throughout history.

There are surprisingly few places to turn for thoughtful answers to why things are this way. Most efforts to explain good and evil are either based on scientific reductionism or naïve utopianism. I have only found one source to be wide enough to explain the complex dimensions of the human story and large enough to speak to innate longings of the human heart for a better world.

The source I have found most helpful is popular but not well understood — even among those who feel surprisingly justified in rejecting it. Mere mention of this source in academic settings typically invokes condescending reactions. Those who take the source seriously are wrongly treated as unenlightened and narrow-minded. Yet those who react this way rarely offer thoughtful alternatives for the dilemma of good and evil.

The source I look to offers truths that range from simple and accessible, to complex and mysterious. It speaks to a child and challenges a scholar. It covers the physical and the metaphysical. It reaches both time and eternity. It tells us where we came from; why we’re here and what went wrong. It addresses universal longings for peace and goodness by revealing where to find hope for a better future. It speaks deeply to universal human needs for forgiveness, freedom, and peace.

It is the most widely circulated and best-selling book of history. It’s main character came from eternity to humble earthly circumstances and died a brutal death. His death, we are repeatedly told, was a redemptive sacrifice for all people.

He transformed countless individual lives and human history itself more than any other person who has lived. He introduced himself as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who is, who was and who is to come. He said, “I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18). The source is the Bible and the main character is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ remains the most amazing person who ever lived on this planet. Although born in obscurity over 2,000 years ago, the world can’t escape his legacy and global influence. No individual comes close to the impact Jesus made on humanity.

Jesus Christ is so amazing that he can only be fully explained by use of terms that defy normal categories.  We need terms that reach beyond our reality and shatter many of our common assumptions. Jesus,

  • fulfilled ancient prophecies in his birth, life and death?
  • predicted his own death and resurrection?
  • claimed to exist before Abraham was born?
  • claimed the right to forgive sins?
  • claimed that he would be the judge of all people?
  • claimed eternal duration for his words?
  • claimed equality with God?
  • claimed the ability to give eternal life to those who believe on him?

He is too much for us to fully wrap our minds around. His existence demands a God who breaks in on the natural order. Jesus Christ is so extraordinarily unprecedented that he shatters our categories and demands our worship.

Some people find the central message about Jesus a bit difficult to accept because it involves exclusive claims about the only way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6). “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (I Timothy 2:6)

The sacrificial death of Jesus is repeatedly emphasized as something offered for the sins of the world, for all men; for the whole world (see: John 3:16,17; I John 2:1-2), but this inclusive demonstration of God’s love is the only way to be forgiven and accepted by God.

There is a better world coming where there will be no more war; no more need for military.

So while I give thanks for the faithful men and women who serve our nation, I long for “a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.'”

Heaven is our point of reference! Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But we must not stand gazing into heaven because there is work to be done for the honor of God’s name, the advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will.

Steve Cornell

Meeting the God of all comfort

In a couple of weeks, I will speak at a conference on the theme “Meeting the God of all comfort in our trials.” My text will be the book of II Corinthians.

In the opening verses, we find an invitation to praise the God of all comfort.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

I realize that trials take many forms, but when it comes to physical and emotional suffering, it’s easy to become accustom to faster solutions than previous generations experienced. Amazing advancements in science and medicine have strengthened our expectations for quick resolution to our pain.

But how do we respond when doctors are unable to accurately diagnose our condition? Do we become more impatient when we believe that technology and medicine should be able to get to the root of our needs?

What happens to us when we have unrealistic expectation for health and emotional happiness? Are we more easily disappointed and discouraged? And do our expectations of technology and science sometimes cloud our engagement with the God of all comfort? 

This kind of disposition toward suffering could also cause us lose touch with the considerable emphasis in Scripture on the role of sadness and suffering in life with God.

These are not theoretical issues for me. When my father (who recently passed away) came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis in his mid-thirties, I learned what it meant to carry a burden for a suffering loved one. I was only about 12 years old but it profoundly shaped my life. I learned so much about God’s sustaining grace and His redeeming power to bring good out of pain and suffering.

I continued to learn about the role of trials in a more personal way when I prepared for pastoral ministry. At the beginning of the journey, a pastor reminded me that those whom God uses greatly, He tests greatly. I had no idea at the time what this meant but now I understand. Further, as a pastor with almost 30 years in ministry, I have walked with many people through all kinds of trials and suffering. 

Some key Scriptures that have carried me: II Corinthians 1:3-114:16-18;12:1-10;James 1:2-9Psalm 62:8Proverbs 3:5-6

When faced with difficult and unexplainable trials, I look to the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles. I’ve learned to trust that suffering has a greater purpose even when I cannot see it. I pray with one eye on the back-story of human depravity and another (by faith) on our hope-filled expectation of the glorious end-story for forgiven sinners like me (see: Colossians 3:1-4). 

Normal Christian living involves groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

When God’s loved ones enter the place He has prepared for them, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-6; John 14:1-3).

I find myself longing more and more for this day; for this place and for our God.

Steve Cornell

(See: The danger of hot tub religion)

A challenging week ahead

This will be a challenging week for me as I plan to attend a memorial service for my first pastor, mentor and friend in ministry, Dr. Richard Gregory and, later in the week, I plan to lead a memorial service for my Dad.

These are the two men who no doubt had the most influence in my life. I feel too numb to know what I feel right now (does that make sense?). I am sure the waves will hit. Yet I also feel a mantle of responsibility to carry on in the work in their absence.

I draw comfort in the great promises of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He said, “Because I live you also will live” (John 14:19), “… everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Other Scriptures I find helpful 

  • But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24). 
  • “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
  • “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
  • “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all of the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:3)
  • “Whom have I in heaven by you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26.)

Those who belong to Jesus should adopt the perspective described in Romans 14:8, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” The reason we have this understanding of living and dying is that, Jesus “died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep (i.e. alive or dead), we may live together with him” (I Thessalonians 5:10).

 Steve Cornell
 

The few years that we live in this body

“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else — that it is all directed toward a higher end.”

“For a person whose roots have been thoroughly transplanted from the present soil into that of eternity, who dances lightly on the surface of the earth and so is ready to leave at a moment’s notice, there would be little point in dwelling on the thought of death. Sad to say, however, this mind-set is rarely to be found among those who profess Christianity. Most churchgoers are as deeply rooted in this world, and thus as deeply in despair, as those who profess no such hope. Far from being an exercise in morbidity, a deepening acquaintance with our death and with the vanity of human wishes is for our worldly hearts a needed path to perfect health” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion).

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Steve Cornell

Heaven: A place beyond